From Growing Up in Santa Cruz to Competing in Australia:
By Kevin Painchaud
On a brisk Sunday morning I met the young Autumn Hays at Steamers Lane. With her surfboard tucked beneath her arms, I had a few moments to speak with her. It was her final days before she was to go on a trip to Australia to compete in a surfing competition. From growing up in Santa Cruz and going to Mission Hill Middle School then to Santa Cruz High, this 19 year-old-pro is making a name for herself in the surfing world.
Tell me about yourself?
I’m 19 years old and went to school at Santa Cruz High.
How old were you when you started surfing?
I started surfing when I was in 7th grade.
Did your parents surf?
I’m not from a surfing family, but my dad goes surfing on occasion. But they have always been really supportive of my surfing.
How did you first get into surfing?
I joined the surfing club while at Mission Hills Middle School. In 8th grade I did my first competition. Then in my freshman year in high school, I started doing bigger competitions and was doing really well. Throughout high school, I kept on surfing and competing. After I graduated high school, I started to surf full time.
What countries have you traveled to for your surf competitions?
I have traveled so many places around the world. I’ve been to Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Tahiti, Barbados, Martinique, Australia, France, Spain, El Salvador, and I’m sure I’m missing a couple others.
Were you able to travel much while you were in high school?
I traveled a little bit for some comps in high school. I was studying full time, so it was hard, but I did a fair amount of competitions that I traveled to.
What do you love about surfing?
I love that every wave is so different. There are so many cool surf destinations. Going on a trip that revolves around surfing is so much fun. There’s always new waves that you want to go surfing. I just love it.
What’s your least favorite thing about surfing?
Probably that you can’t control the ocean. When you are competing you want to get good waves and it gets frustrating because you can’t control it.
Have you ever been scared surfing or had any close calls?
Last year I was up north and I saw a Great White while I was surfing.
Do you find that females are treated differently in the surfing world than males?
I think that sometimes we do get the worst conditions in competitions but I see that it’s changing now that it’s equal pay. (Starting in September of last year, the World Surf League announced that it will give equal prize money to male and female athletes in all of its events starting in 2019.)
In normal surf spots, do you find guys pretty supportive of females being out there?
Ya, I see it changing a lot. All of my guy friends that are out there have been nothing but really supportive of girls out in the water.
Who are your sponsors?
I’m a pro rider for O’Neill, O’Neill surf shop, and Creatures of Leisure
What’s next for you?
Just keep on competing and get my ranking up.
What would you recommend to kids out there that want to start surfing?
If you really enjoy it, just keep on doing it. Don’t be intimidated by other surfers. Especially if you’re a girl. It can be really intimidating.
What would you say to kids who are interested in surfing?
I’d say to join your middle school surf club. All the teachers are so supportive and help you with resources such as boards and wetsuits. It makes it easy to surf because you have a schedule and tons of friends going with you.
What spots do you recommend for new surfers?
Probably Cowell’s and 38.
What was your inspiration?
Just watching the guys surf the lane (Steamers Lane) that we’re really good. I wanted to be able to surf like that.
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